What Overqualified for a Job Really Means

What Overqualified for a Job Really Means

It never seems to make any sense. You work your whole career learning skills and gaining experience. Then one day, an employer or hiring manager tells you in a rejection email, “You are overqualified for this position”. And you wonder, “What does that really mean?”

The more you think about being too good to do a job, the less it makes sense to you. You fit the job qualifications and requirements and now that is a bad thing?

If this has happened to you before, we explain what the hiring manager or employer was really trying to say by labeling you “overqualified” and how to avoid it.

They cannot understand why you want the job

If the job does not seem to pay well, it seems like you will get bored too quickly, or the hiring manager did not like your answer to the interview question, “Why do you want to work here?” they may call you overqualified.

To them, it makes no sense that you would take a job beneath your abilities that does not challenge you. They do not want to hire a person who will be bored and unmotivated because the work is too easy.  

Hiring managers and employers may even feel they are helping you by rejecting you. They feel this way because, in their eyes, the job is beneath you.

They feel unworthy of your talent and abilities

Imagine for a moment you are a business owner running a startup. Your experience is as small as your budget and you are learning as you go.

Then, you post a job listing and an experienced Google engineer applies. What do you do? It may be easy to say you will hire him or her, but the reality is this person has the experience you find intimidating, plus you have no idea how you can afford him or her.

Maybe one day they will look to hire you. But until that time, you are just too good for the company because of your experience. You know this is the case if an employer bluntly says with a curious tone, “I do not understand why you want to work here.”

They fear they will lose you quickly

Let’s face it. A person with great skills and experience always runs the risk of not sticking around too long. The processes behind hiring, training, bringing people up to speed and all of the administrative processes in between...all cost time and money. Companies do not want to go through the process if they predict you will likely to quit within a year.

If they know your skills are relevant and that there is a risk you will be gone within a year, they may use the label “overqualified”. The risk is greater than the reward to them.

This label can also be applied if they see you are a job hopper, and given every company would kill to have you, they may pass on you while using this label.

They fear you are a litigious risk or culture fit

Sadly, this is the result of operating in a country with Equal Employment Opportunity laws (EEOC) and less-than-respectable business owners.

If a company fears you run the risk of one day filing a lawsuit for any form of discrimination, or you fall into a legally protected class of job candidate, they may call you overqualified. Meanwhile, the real intent behind the label is discrimination based on age, race, gender, and disability.

Settling lawsuits is expensive and not all bosses are scrupulous. Bosses make mistakes, too. If they slip up and do something that leads to a lawsuit, it always reflects poorly on a company’s reputation. Companies may just not want to deal with all of it and use safe words to get out of hiring someone such as “not a good culture fit”.

What to do about all this

You cannot change what you are and your experience, so try some of these things to help. Update your resume to remove information that may unnecessarily lead to biased decision-making:

  • Date you graduated
  • Pictures

Make your reasons for wanting to work at a company have “epic meaning”. Make your experience sound geared towards you achieving your mission in life. Explain why your experience and their company will complete your mission of working for a company that you truly believe in.

Above all, never allow what you know to be obstacles get in the way of your career progression. You are only limited by the fear that is holding you back!

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